What’s worse than a crazy, violent person with a gun? A crazy, violent person with a gun and a security clearance.
The aftermath of the mass murder at the Washington Navy Yard has been a nearly perfect example of the hypermature political system that I’ve been complaining about. Even as the story was still breaking the usual suspects were making their usual claims. Gun control advocates were calling for stricter gun control. Gun control opponents were calling for an end to “gun free” zones.
I think that we can stipulate that if we completely removed firearms from our society that the number of firearms-related deaths would decrease. Sadly, that’s not going to happen. Even if we went house-to-house and confiscated firearms, there are probably tens of thousands of Americans who have the knowledge, skill, and access to the equipment necessary to make even automatic weapons. A determined individual will always be able to obtain firearms and every report I’ve seen has suggested that the killer at the Washington Navy Yard was determined. Such a mass confiscation would probably reduce impulsive firearms violence, e.g. suicide using a firearm. Would it reduce the number of suicides? I have no idea. I don’t believe such a mass confiscation will ever take place and I seriously doubt that a fractional reduction in the number or increase of firearms will have any effect whatever.
I think that we can also stipulate that if everyone were armed, skilled, and responsible, the number of mass murders of the sort that occurred at the Washington Navy Yard would decrease as well. The key words in that sentence are “everyone” and “responsible”. Responsible people don’t murder people but you can no more mandate responsibility than you can benevolence or courage.
We might want to pay closer attention to the other qualifiers in my second sentence. If there’s one thing we should have learned from the events of the last several years, it’s that our national security system is seriously broken. So many things require security clearances and so many security clearances are granted that the standards for issuing them have become lax. Could the system work at all if they were issued as strictly as they should be? I have my doubts.
Under the circumstances I don’t see how anyone can give reasonable assurances let alone guarantees that private or secret information will remain private or secret with a straight face.
It is impossible to maximize the freedom of mentally ill people and ensure that they receive the care they need. We must strike a balance and the murders at the Washington Navy Yard certainly suggest that we haven’t struck the proper balance yet.
Finally, violence. It’s impossible to watch Canadian or British television without being struck by how violent, savage even, our television is. I see that as an acceptance of how violent our society is. Strong, courageous people who are mentally and morally sound don’t need to be violent or, at least, very rarely need to be violent. Can you express your disdain for those with whom you disagree in strident, even violent terms and maintain a non-violent society? I don’t see how that will work.
Writing at RealClearPolicy, Robert VerBruggen explains that the killings at the Navy Yard highlight that making the system more stringent won’t help when the system doesn’t work. That includes the firearms purchasing system, the mental health system, and the security system.